A multimodal analysis of compliment sequences in everyday English interactions

Tiina Keisanen and Elise Kärkkäinen


This study offers a multimodal analysis of turns in everyday English interactions that are used for making compliments, i.e. for positively evaluating the appearance, personal qualities or actions of (a) co-present participant(s) in the present situation. We first identify the most frequent linguistic formats recurrently occurring in compliments in our data. We then focus on the sequential interactional analysis of compliment sequences, i.e. the production of the compliment and the response it receives. While a range of bodily-visual displays and prosodic features can be identified as co-constructing compliment activity, we argue that gaze direction has a specific role in the production of both compliments and their responses. The data come from a database of approximately 8 hours of video–recorded casual face-to-face conversations in English. The study employs the methodology of conversation analysis, maintaining that social interaction in face-to-face conversations is a multimodal achievement, where participants’ use of language, embodied actions and material objects are variously combined to build coherent courses of action (Goodwin 2000). The aim of the study is to provide a description of how embodied actions enter into the design of social action formats for compliments.

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